Do you telecommute?

According to a global study by Ipsos, one in five employees works remotely on a frequent basis.  Emerging markets rank highest in percentage of telecommuters, with 27 percent in the Middle East and Africa, 25 percent in Latin America, 24 percent in Asia-Pacific. Only nine percent of those surveyed in North America and Europe telecommute frequently.

Of course, ease of telecommuting varies by job and industry. Manufacturing, fulfillment, health care, and other jobs require on-site employees, while certain services, sales, technology, and financial positions can be handled effectively from anywhere.

When asked whether they would be very likely to accept the option to work full-time from home if offered, 34 percent of connected employees surveyed said yes. So what are the pros and cons?

Proponents point to higher productivity – as much as 25 percent according to a Telework study of U.S. workers. Employees also experience less stress and tend to work 60 percent of the time they gained by not commuting. Talent retention, reduced absenteeism, and environmental benefits are also realized. Real estate considerations impact both the company and its employees, as the employer pays for less physical space and employees have a wider choice of residential areas when commuting is taken out of the equation.

Detractors claim the practice of telecommuting can breed distrust in managers and resentment among coworkers who must be in the office. They also claim it quells collaborative and creative processes. Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer famously ended all work-at-home situations two years ago, citing the innovation that is sparked by chance hallway encounters and an environment of shoulder-to-shoulder coworkers. Isolation is another potential detriment to WAH employees.

Regardless of critics, this trend does not seem to be reversing itself any time soon. WORKshift Canada points out the attractions for three large workforce demographics: Baby Boomers are at the height of their careers and heading toward retirement. They favor employment on their own terms over jobs that run their lives.  Gen X workers are independent; they want freedom and a work-life balance. Gen Y/Millennial workers are very tech-savvy and collaborative, and expect employers to provide options.

It is important to note that setting up a virtual workplace in a foreign country – as an international assignee’s spouse, for example — can present visa and compliance issues.  It is critical that employers and employees alike thoroughly investigate and resolve these issues before beginning a cross-border telecommuting job or assignment.

As technological innovations expand and global business evolves, corporate policies and culture continue to take this practice into account. Writing this from the northeastern United States in the dead of winter with the flu going around, this writer sees working from home as a pretty smart, productive choice.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, International Project Director, Living Abroad